Monday, March 31, 2008


Running late, quick notes:

Well, I have a plane ticket! It was $2,000, a bit expensive because one of the U.S. carriers fell through. At least I'm flying mostly on European planes, though. Am curious to know what the Kenya Airlines flight will be like.

Am also looking for a place to live. Through the recommendation of a previous intern, have found a responsive housing agency that promises to find me a home. Kampala is gorgeous, from their photos. Nicer than Philadelphia. A lot of pink residences, blue skies.

The end of the semester is a whirlwind. Hope I can write more soon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Already distressingly Western

Another quick note:

I have been corresponding with folks at the UCICC about where I might live this summer. It's a little bit awkward. I want to start my letters, "Dear Ms. / Mr. So-and-so," like we do here in the United States. But I also know that the Acholi, at least, have only one name -- Jennifer Anyayo, for example, is really just Anyayo. Jennifer is the Christian name she uses here in the United States. So I feel just a wee bit awkward. The person I've been writing to, Onyango John Francis, is probably just Onyango. Or John Francis. But of course, I've been calling him Mr. Francis, which is probably separating his Anglicized first name. He signs his e-mails Onyango, but far be it from me to use first names without permission, especially the name of a supervisor I haven't met before. Hello, social awkwardness! I should ask Alison what to do. She'd know.

Guess I'd better get used to the cultural faux pas.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quick note

I might not be able to post much over the next month. Finals are looming; I have a lot of studying to do if I am going to prove my merit in public international and criminal law. (Am a tad bit anxious about this, wish me luck!) Anyway, I definitely have more to write about culture, gender, and what a friend of mine used to call "cosmic hubris," but it will have to wait for another week.

'Til then, take care!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Exciting news!

Penn Law's International Human Rights Advocates have accepted my application. I'm going to be the Director for Clinical Groups for the 2008-2009 academic year! This is very exciting, because I should be able to continue our partnership with Gulu, or maybe start a project on Sudan.

But it gets better! Emily Torstveit is going to be student group coordinator and Nanda Srikantaiah is going to be the 2L director. These women have become good friends, and I have every confidence that their energy and abilities will make IHRA's next year amazing. Kyle Dandelet will be the next spring break coordinator. I just met him yesterday, and he seems like a very competent and outstanding person.

So hooray for next year! Incidentally, I just realized that I haven't posted much about the law school yet. It's a beautiful campus. You can take a virtual tour online.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Somebody else's problem

"And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?
And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?"

Genesis 4:9

I want to write more about responses to crises and social apathy. I mentioned this subject before in my post "Where Altruism Lies," in the section "The Bigger Picture," where I hinted that there may be utilitarian and political reasons for international cooperation to foster a baseline standard of living for all human beings. Here I would like to approach the same discussion from another angle -- what do we become, if we shut our eyes to the value of human life? I stumbled across one example as I prepared for my criminal law class tomorrow morning. And with Professor Robinson's permission, I thought that I would share the story, just as I encountered it in my textbook. A sensitive reader may want to skip this post; the material is very ... powerful.

The following text is excerpted with the permission of the author, Paul H. Robinson, from his book Criminal Law, Case Studies and Controversies 463-471 (1st ed. 2004).

CAUTION: This true story contains graphic violent and sexual content.

The Case of David Cash

It is Memorial Day weekend, 1997. Best friends Jeremy Strohmeyer and David Cash are seniors at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Classmates consider Cash smart but socially awkward. He acts cool by spiking his hair and growing sideburns, but he is still baby-faced, short, and interested in subjects like engineering. In contrast, Strohmeyer is outgoing, wild, and worldly, after living in Singapore for several years while his mother was working there. He drinks, has a fake ID, and is very flirtatious. The two have a firm friendship, though, after meeting in computer class during their junior year, just after Strohmeyer returned to the States. Both have aspirations for after graduation. Strohmeyer wants to be an officer in the Air Force, like his adoptive father, and Cash a nuclear engineer.

Strohmeyer is responsible for introducing Cash to the wilder side of high school by taking him to parties and getting him drunk for the first time, even bringing a camcorder to tape the evening. Cash's parents, who are reconciling after being separated for years, are not terribly concerned. They treat Cash leniently because he has always been independent and trustworthy, and his grades remain good. Even when Cash returns home drunk with Strohmeyer, they do not get angry. Strohmeyer also shows off to Cash his upper-class lifestyle, which includes a maid, a jet, and four cars.

Strohmeyer's behavior is increasingly wild and erratic, and his grades have dropped since he returned from Singapore. For example, a teacher who once described him as one of the best students he ever taught has recently changed his mind; he now sees two different sides to Strohmeyer. In school, he is thought of as a hard partier with a violent temper. His Internet sign-in name is "Killer." He also has a secret interest in child pornography. Recently, he had an Internet chat, under the screen name "flyboy1030," where he wrote that he fantasizes about sex with five- or six-year-old girls. He even asked a girlfriend to dress up in a young girl's school uniform and put her hair in pigtails. (She refused.)

Over the past year, Strohmeyer has slowly spiraled into a destructive pattern. He uses drugs more often, drinks frequently, and is taking amphetamines, the combination of which explains his recent behavior at parties. At one, he spit in a jock's face and screamed profanities at a girl after she asked him to leave. On another occasion, he sneaked a kitten out of a host's house and threw it out of a car's window as he drove away. He even incited others to help him throw marshmallows, then books, and finally bottles down a hallway at a party, which he followed up by personally kicking holes in the walls. His parents think he is just going through a typical teenage rebellion stage, while classmates attribute his behavior to extreme senioritis.

Nonetheless, Cash still looks up to Strohmeyer. Strohmeyer is one of the "cool kids," and helps Cash overcome his struggles of trying to fit in by introducing him to people and giving him the chance to hang out with the other "cool kids." Cash sometimes joins Strohmeyer in a big group when it goes cruising the town, which occasionally also includes harassing prostitutes and the homeless. Strohmeyer often brags about smashing eggs in the faces of prostitutes.

Strohmeyer also benefits from his friendship with Cash. As the more impressionable of the two, Cash helps Strohmeyer feel cool by laughing at all of Strohmeyer's jokes and pranks and defending his actions. Cash is also allowed to drive his mother's red Chevrolet convertible, while Strohmeyer's parents never allow him to drive their cars. The two recently used Cash's mother's car for a road trip to UC Berkeley, during which they got their tongues pierced. The university is Cash's top choice. A serious car crash ended their trip, but Strohmeyer's father bailed them out by purchasing them airline tickets back to Long Beach.

For the long Memorial Day weekend, Cash's father invites Strohmeyer along for a trip to Las Vegas as a thank-you to his parents for letting Cash stay with them for three weeks. Cash is looking forward to the trip.

On the evening of Saturday, May 24, 1997, they leave for Las Vegas. On the way, they stop at several towns for food and gas, reaching Primm, on the Nevada border, at midnight. There they visit the Primadonna Casino. Cash's father gives the two some money and tells them to meet up again at 3:00 a.m. He then goes to play poker. Cash and Strohmeyer want to ride Wild Bill's Roller Coaster, but cannot find the entrance. Instead, they end up at another casino and then an arcade. Neither place thrills them, and they eventually make their way back to the Primadonna.

Sitting by the pool, Strohmeyer uses his fake ID to order some drinks. He has a whiskey and Coke, while Cash goes for a strawberry daiquiri. As the night creeps on, they grow restless. At one point, Strohmeyer tries sneaking into the gambling section, but casino security promptly kicks him out. They order more drinks and play arcade games. Strohmeyer starts talking to a girl who he thinks has a nice body. He asks for her beeper number, but she refuses, recalling later that she thought he was creepy. Strohmeyer leaves to get more drinks, but when he returns he keeps trying to talk to her. He tries to impress her by showing off his nipple and tongue piercings. When her mother arrives, they quickly leave.

Cash and Strohmeyer are tired of playing video games and decide to urinate on them to entertain themselves. They quickly become distracted, however, by two young children having a spitball fight. One of their wet paper towels hits Strohmeyer, and he throws it back. He then starts playing with the kids, and they run through the rows of video games.

One of the children is seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson of South Central Los Angeles. Like them, she has grown tired of waiting for her father. Casino security has twice taken her back to her father and she had already fallen asleep in the driver's seat of a video game. She is used to the long nights that the Nevada casinos trips bring, because her father, a diabetic on disability, has "gamblin' fever." While thinking it too dangerous to allow Sherrice to play in front of their house in South Central, he thinks the Primadonna is safe and lets her have the run of the place. Sherrice is generally well cared for; she always sports freshly pressed clothes and neatly braided hair. At age seven, she likes "The Little Mermaid," purple, and jump-roping, but is still afraid of the dark. When she grows up, she wants to be a "nurse, policewoman, model, or dancer." She is less than four feet tall and weighs about forty-six pounds. Her playmate on this night, Strohmeyer, is almost six feet tall and weighs about one hundred fifty pounds.

They continue playing in the arcade for another ten minutes or so, until Sherrice runs into the women's restroom. Strohmeyer gets a drink of water, takes a puff of his cigarette, and follows her in. A few seconds later, Cash follows after him. In the bathroom, Sherrice swings a plastic "Wet Floor" sign at Strohmeyer and he gets angry. He picks her up, placing one of his arms under her armpit with his hand over her mouth, while using the other arm to lift her into the handicap stall, locking the door behind him. He chooses this one because it has more room.

Thinking that the game has gone too far, Cash becomes a little concerned. He tries to get Strohmeyer's attention by standing on the toilet in the stall adjacent to the handicap one. Cash tells him to let Sherrice go and tries to convince him to leave the bathroom. He then starts tapping on Strohmeyer's head to get his attention. Finally, Cash catches Strohmeyer's attention when he knocks off Strohmeyer's "Bruins" hat. Strohmeyer just stares back weirdly, like "he [doesn't] care what [Cash] is saying." After his unsuccessful attempts to get Strohmeyer to stop, Cash gives up. He leaves the arcade and waits for Strohmeyer and his father on a bench in the resort's courtyard.

Strohmeyer notices Cash's intervention, but quickly refocuses on Sherrice. He takes off her boots, followed by her pants and underwear. She screams when he "fingers" her a few times. He notices blood on his index finger. To quiet her down, he puts her on the floor, with her hands pulled around her neck. He holds her in this position for about ten minutes and then puts her on the toilet and begins to masturbate against her body. He thinks she is unconscious but alive.

When women suddenly come into the restroom, Strohmeyer quickly props her up on the toilet and sits on her, so that only his feet show under the stall's door. With people still there, he tries masturbating again, but cannot maintain an erection. Strohmeyer quickly covers her mouth when he hears Sherrice gasping for air.

After the restroom empties, Sherrice is limp. Strohmeyer thinks that it would be cruel to leave Sherrice as she is. He considers her future as a "vegetable" and decides to "put her out of her misery." He tries to break her neck. Despite hearing a loud pop, he sees her still moving, and uses all of his strength to do it again. This time he is convinced that she is dead.

Strohmeyer cleans up by putting Sherrice's boots, pants, and underwear in the toilet. He then wipes his forearm clean of white foam and blood before finally putting Sherrice's legs in the toilet and propping her up so that none of her limbs are visible from under the stall door. Twenty-two minutes after following Sherrice in, Strohmeyer leaves.

As he walks out of the casino, he stays close to the walls of the arcade in an attempt to avoid the security cameras. He meets Cash. On their way to the car, they talk to a valet and show off their piercings. Cash asks Strohmeyer what went on in the bathroom after he left. Looking him straight in the eye, Strohmeyer answers, bluntly, "I killed her." Cash later recalls being shocked by the revelation and having no idea how to react. His only other question of Strohmeyer is whether she was "wet" when he digitally raped her.

Shortly afterwards, Cash's father arrives and they finish driving to Las Vegas, arriving there on the morning of Sunday, May 25. They check into the Holiday Inn at noon. Strohmeyer and Cash play slot machines, drink beer, ride a roller coaster, and check out all the casinos. During their explorations, they discuss what happened at the Primadonna. Cash is convinced they will be caught because of the video surveillance that was all over the resort. He is also worried that they made themselves conspicuous by showing off their piercings and saying that they were from Long Beach. They make a pact not to tell anyone. If caught, they make up various excuses for Strohmeyer to use, ranging from sheer innocence to intoxication to insanity. Early Monday morning, the three arrive back in Long Beach. At the Primadonna, meanwhile, a female employee has found Sherrice's body and has informed the police and the girl's father.

On Tuesday, school is back in session, but Cash sleeps in and skips his classes. He hangs around the house all day and during the five o'clock news sees that there is a videotape of him and Strohmeyer entering and exiting the restroom. Realizing that they will certainly be found, the color drains from his face. He calls Strohmeyer to tell him about the video. Cash watches it again with Strohmeyer. To gain perspective, they decide they need to tell someone about the incident. They tell the whole story to a friend, James Trujillo, in a Kinko's parking lot. When Trujilo does not believe them, Cash tells another friend, Jeremy Philips, who tells Cash to turn Strohmeyer in to the police.

The next day, a classmate, Melissa Ellis, sees the video on television before school. She immediately recognizes the pair, identifying Strohmeyer from his posture and walk and Cash by his sideburns and hair. Strohmeyer and Cash drive to school that day in Cash's mother's red convertible with an LA Times newspaper in the backseat. On the front page of the paper are pictures of the two (stills from the videotape). They talk with Justin Ware, whose mother called him at 10:00 p.m. the night before to see if he recognized the boys in the video. Ware asked them if they really did it; Strohmeyer says he did. Ware is speechless. The pair goes to class and Strohmeyer acts normally the entire day, goofing off and flashing his piercings.

Later, Ellis runs into her friend, Lisa Cota, and finds out that she too recognized Strohmeyer and Cash in the video. They talk to Carmela Rhmyer, who says that Strohmeyer just told her that he and Cash were in Las Vegas over the weekend, but that he was drunk and is innocent. Later, a girl in Ware's class says that the LA Times photo looks like Strohmeyer. Ware tells Strohmeyer about it and asks him what he is going to do. Strohmeyer says, "Nothing," and that another student has already confronted him. Strohmeyer and Cash go to Taco Bell for lunch and make "last supper" jokes throughout the meal. Cash thinks they will be arrested when they return to school. Acting on information from Ellis and Cota, Assistant Principal Greg Mendoza contacts Officer Birdsall about the video. Birdsall interviews the two students and arranges for surveillance on Strohmeyer's house.

Strohmeyer goes home after school, growing increasingly anxious. He calls an ex-girlfriend, Agnes Lee, and asks her to come over. Although she feels ill, she does not want to let him down and goes. They go to Jamba Juice, where she notices that he is nervous and fidgety. She drops him off at his house just as his older sister, Heather, is arriving. He runs back to Lee's car and asks her to stay because he has to tell her something -- that he has done something horrible. He tells her that he strangled a young black girl and asks her to leave the country with him. He also says the girl was sexually molested, but (falsely) blames it on Cash. Lee refuses to flee with him and tells him he deserves to be punished. When she gets back to her house, she sees the video and recognizes Strohmeyer and Cash. Lee calls her father and recounts her conversation with Strohmeyer. Her father immediately calls the Long Beach police. They contact Lee, who warns them of Strohmeyer's temper and desire to leave the country.

By now, Cash has received a phone call from his father, instructing him to stay home. Cash is certain that his father is now aware of their involvement in the crime at the Primadonna. Cash calls Strohmeyer to explain that his father knows and that he will probably be forced to talk to the police. Strohmeyer agrees and says that he understands the situation. He is now aware that he is being watched. He takes his ADD medication off the shelf, empties the bottle into his mouth, and writes a suicide note. He then goes out on the porch to smoke a cigarette while the police sit in their cars, watching patiently. Strohmeyer's sister drops their mother off at home, but he does not want her to see him in this state and scrambles out the door and down the street. He does not make it very far, however, before the police overtake him.

They take him to a community hospital, after his mother alerts them to his drug ingestion. Meanwhile, Cash's father asks Cash if he saw the video. They go to the police department. Cash is scared, thinking, "even though I didn't do anything, I could get into more trouble." The police take his picture and interview him, but do not charge him with a crime. cash goes home to finish homework that is due the next day.

At the hospital, Strohmeyer tells the police he wants to talk and get things out in the open. They inform him of his rights. He tells them that Cash had nothing to do with the murder. Strohmeyer "wanted to experience death." He describes that it was like a dream and he can only remember bits and pieces. After giving a full account of the evening, Strohmeyer adds that he hopes some good will come of his crime, in the form of parents keeping better watch over their children.

At school the next day, Cash is curious whether things will be different and what people's reactions will be. His day is cut short, however, when he is thrown out of class for his project -- a collage of pictures of pierced female genitalia. When he finally returns to school, Cash is shocked to learn that he will not be allowed to participate in his class's graduation or its prom. He is told that his diploma will be sent to him and the cost of his prom tickets refunded.

The story is sensational and the media quickly descends on Cash. They interview him and even pay for the video of him getting drunk for the first time with Strohmeyer. he sells it for $1,500, keeping $500 for himself, and gives the rest to Philips for orchestrating the deal. Cash and Phillips later show up outside the school prom, standing through the sunroof of a limo screaming, "I'm not going." The media cover the stunt heavily, and Cash later recalls that he enjoyed being in the limelight. He later goes with friends to watch a belly-dancing performance at a restaurant.

On Saturday, May 31, Sherrice's funeral is held at Paradise Baptist Church. Her parents are not speaking to each other and both are using Strohmeyer and the Primadonna. (Sherrice's father is also involved in another lawsuit for slander, after a casino official told reporters that the father asked for $100, a six-pack, a hotel room, and payment for Sherrice's funeral, after learning of her death.) The Primadonna files cross-claims and third-party claims against Cash and Strohmeyer. Sherrice's mother says she still dreams about her daughter. Strohmeyer's parents are receiving death threats.

In an interview with the LA Times, Cash says that "if anything, the case has made it easier for [me] to score with women." When asked whether he is angry with Strohmeyer, Cash says no, only that he misses his friend. When asked if he feels sorry for Sherrice Iverson, he says that the "situation sucks in general." He says he feels worse for Strohmeyer because he knows him.

"It is very tragic, okay? But the simple fact remains I do not know this little girl. I do not know starving children in Panama. I do not know people that die of disease in Egypt. The only person I knew in this event was Jeremy Strohmeyer, and I know as his best friend that he had potential. ... I'm sad that I lost a best friend. ... I'm not going to lose sleep over somebody else's problem."

The aftermath: Strohmeyer was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Cash was never charged, and went on to attend UC Berkeley, where other students reportedly shunned any association with him. Nevada passed the Sherrice Iverson Bill, making it a misdemeanor to omit reporting the murder, rape, or sexual assault of a minor 14 years of age or younger.

Shaking off academia

It has been a busy spring break. I finally got to do a bit of research for an independent project I dreamed up for the Sudan Studies Association. I'll be going to Florida mid-May to present a paper on land laws and their effect on resettlement in southern Sudan. It's been a tough project because most of the source material I need is only available in Arabic. I've had to rely on journal articles describing Sudanese legislation to learn about the legislation, itself. Fortunately, I have recently encountered a group of British academics who should be able to get me a full translation.

I've been working as fast as I can, because I won't have time for things like this when I go back to class tomorrow. But for all the reading that I've done, the most powerful lesson thus far has come from my mother.

I make a point of calling home at least once a week. The conversations are comfortable and rejuvenating -- Mom tells me everything the family has been doing, I tell her everything I've been doing. It doesn't matter that she doesn't understand the legal doctrine I'm learning, or that I don't know the co-workers she's describing. This is how we weave our lives together, like any healthy family does.

On this particular call, I started telling Mom about my project for the SSA. I was going over some of the more controversial provisions of the 1984 Civil Transaction Act when she stopped me.

"You mean, if you leave your land for more than a year, the government takes it?"

"Yeah, Mom. And that's a real problem for people who are running to the cities for protection from violence."

"You mean ... your father's land isn't his, anymore?"

That stopped me -- the little break in my mother's voice, more than anything else. I know how much my father has lost. I think about it all the time. Officially knowing he has no home to return to -- that's no surprise. But you have to understand about my mom: She is one of the strongest women in the world. Perhaps because she grew up with bombs falling on the neighbor's house, perhaps because she was born that way, my mother has an inner strength surpassing most. If there is an emergency, Mom handles it. If there is a death in the family, Mom handles it. If there are tears, Mom handles that too. So hearing her voice crack -- I'd imagine watching the planet shatter would be just as surprising.

Maybe it was just the remnants of a cold, maybe that pinprick of sorrow is something I made up. But I realized something. Academia is just as much of a filter for dealing with these issues as self-enforced ignorance. The only real knowledge I will ever have comes from knowing people, seeing places, experiencing life myself. That is not to say research isn't useful; it is a powerful tool. But at some point, I need to cast off my protections and really feel.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another celebrity

For those of you interested in Sudan, you might want to investigate this blog, Making Sense of Darfur, hosted in part by Alex De Waal, fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard and a director of Justice Africa, London.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Legality in the absence of government

International law is different than every other type of law because there is no central government to create and enforce legislation. The central principle of public international law is that States are sovereign; they can do whatever they like. The only international law is what States agree to -- supplemented ever so slightly by what a vast majority of other states agree to and are willing to enforce. This lack of government and inability to bind has generated a debate among legal scholars: if States can do whatever they want, does international law actually exist?

This is the field I want to work in -- a field so discredited in the United States, a major Ivy League university like Penn only has one assistant professor teaching the subject as an elective. Of course, different countries treat international law with varying degrees of respect. In Europe, for example, international law is still regarded as a significant force. Study is mandated, and students memorize the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Charter and other such sources of international law. The law is taught as if rules lead to the outcome of every case. By contrast, in the United States we determine the politics underlying a case and assume that States will strategically employ international legal rules to reach the politically desirable outcome. Professor Burke-White says that a good international lawyer can figure the law like a European and like an American.

The problem with adhering strictly to legal codes is that sometimes there is no rule leading to an outcome that seems absolutely necessary. And in the absence of a legislature, how else can a set of laws develop except by new activities that eventually become customary practice or are codified into the law?

I encountered an excellent example early this week while I was working on my criminal law outline. I found this material especially useful because it refers specifically to the concerns presented to the International Criminal Court. But before I address the ICC, more background on legality for my non-legal readers:

Background in Criminal Law

In the United States, we employ a criminal code established by the legislature and a set of interpretive rules that almost always favors the defendant. The U.S. justice system would rather let guilty defendants go free than impose penalties on the innocent. It embodies a strong preference for leniency and popular oversight, and as follows:

1. Our laws rely on elected officials to determine what is and is not criminal, because that gives the public voting power over the individuals who make acts criminal. If the populace disagrees with a proposed code, the power of our vote should make legislators responsive to that intuition.

2. The court cannot spontaneously decide that an act is a crime without a prior legislative act criminalizing that activity -- protecting defendants from arbitrary, political, or retributivist criminalization.

3. A defendant must have sufficient notice that his or her act is criminal.

4. The court cannot interpret an ambiguous statute to make an act criminal unless there is strong evidence that such interpretation was intended by the legislature.

Collectively, we call these ideas the "legality principle." It has its advantages and disadvantages. Take this situation for example (taken from Professor Paul Robinson's criminal law book, and based on a true story):

Keeler and his wife Theresa get a divorce. Five months later, Keeler learns that Theresa is eight months pregnant with another man's baby. He stops her on the road one day as she is returning from dropping off their daughters at his house. He helps her out of the car, saying he wants to talk. Then he shows his anger. Yelling "I am going to kick it out of you," Keeler knees his ex in the abdomen, hard. She starts experiencing pain, and goes to the hospital. The fetus has suffered a fractured skull. If it had been born that day, it would have had more than a 75 percent chance of survival.

But Keeler was not prosecuted for murder -- or any other kind of criminal homicide, for that matter. The laws for criminal homicide only forbid the killing of a human being. Neither the Model Penal Code nor the state code include the unborn in their definition of "human being," so Keeler could not be found guilty on those specific charges.

As a result of the legality principle, working with the criminal code is like writing a poem. There's an old Latin saying: nulla crimen sine lege, nulla poena sine lege (no crime without a law, no punishment without a law). Prosecutors have to figure out how to achieve a desired effect within rules that frequently seem to work against their objective. The art lies in taking these rules that could work contrary to your objective, and turning them into advantage.

In Keeler's case, prosecution tried him for assault on the mother and illegal abortion -- a felony offense that earns a punishment as severe as some homicide convictions.

Synthesizing My Homework: The Legality Principle's Relevance in International Law

Warning, Graphic Subject Matter Below

But as I mentioned earlier, international law has no legislature to establish a code. Instead it evolves around concerted State practice. So what happens when a case falls outside traditional definitions and rules, like Keeler's did?

This problem came up in the early prosecution of war crimes. There was no rule, "No person, group of persons, or State shall systematically kill members of a specific race, religion, or social group so as to eliminate that group for a perceived social purpose." There was no rule, "No person, group of persons, or State shall form alliances with political parties which kill members of a specific social group." Imagine, at Nuremberg, having to try a high-ranking member of the Nazi party for direct or complicit involvement in the deaths of hundreds of victims who might not be identifiable, with little direct evidence of the defendant's specific involvement in that case. So the international community defined new crimes and began to prosecute in new ways, contrary to the legality principle.

Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States in the Prosecution of War Criminals, justified the prosecutions by asserting that "our test of what legally is crime gives recognition to those things which fundamentally outraged the conscience of the American people and brought them finally to the conviction that their own liberty and civilization could not persist in the world with the Nazi power." The problem with that defense is that it imposes the values of one culture on the people of another culture. Who is to say that the accused knew that their acts were criminal, or that they were acting with some sort of blameworthiness? It may be easy to incriminate Adolf Hitler, but what about the Japanese general who is directing his troops as per the orders of his government? Do you hold him accountable for following orders? Is that fair?

This is not equitable, this is victor's justice, the critics say. This is revenge seeking, not law.

Hard to argue. Still, even divorced from emotion there seems to be an intuitive split between what is necessary to war, and what is unnecessary to war. Burning crops so that military forces cannot be fed -- that makes some sense, in its cruelty. Raping a woman with a foreign object. That may have a psychological objective, but it has no direct impact on troops and seems unnecessary.

Professor Burke-White actually encountered the latter case during his work with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. To strengthen the prosecution, he had to find definitions of rape that included the insertion of foreign objects (as opposed to traditional sexual contact). In a world of vastly different standards governing sexual contact, it wasn't easy. In some societies, punishment might be imposed just for unlawfully touching a woman's hair. In other societies, it might not be unlawful for a man to engage in nonconsensual sexual intercourse with a woman provided he does not cause her lasting physical harm. With so many varied definitions, how do you prove to a judge who may or may not share your cultural standards that what the defendant did is wrong?

The answer, of course, lies in aggregating as much law in your favor as possible: treaties, State practice, learned opinions, legislative histories, custom, etc. You construct the most powerful argument possible, and then you hope the court finds in your favor. I'll tell you what I hope. A thousand years from now, if humankind still exists, I hope we will have worked out a better system. Until then, however, I really have my work cut out for me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Comments enabled!

A very dear friend let me know that I had comments restricted to blog members only. They are now open to the public, pending review. Feel free to post anything, from the personal to the professional. I will approve anything appropriate for a mixed professional and family-based audience.

Besides, blogging is good for your health. So says my friend Frank.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The What that we hide

I just got an e-mail from an old high school classmate. I love social networking web sites; you never have to say goodbye to anyone. Esteban is a Ph.D candidate in anthropology at Berkeley, now. His travel photography is striking. I've posted a link to it in the sidebar to the right; if you have time, the site is worth review.

But the springboard for my next memory is really what Esteban said in his e-mail. I hope he doesn't mind my posting this snippet:

"I took a look at your blog, and it occurred to me that you might be interested in the book You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers. Pretty hilarious book about traveling. I really enjoyed it."

I'll bet it is. I haven't read Eggers in a long time. The only novel of his that I have read in its entirety is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It was okay. I liked the first hundred pages or so. After a while it got self-involved and I thought the humor ran dry, but the story still kept me until the end.

Then last Christmas, someone gave my father What is the What. It seemed an appropriate present -- the story of a Sudanese refugee given to a Sudanese refugee. Christmas morning, my father read the first chapter and laughed, laughed, laughed. "You have to read this!" he says. And he is very excited.

After hours of urging, Mom is the first one to realize that Dad needs to share something. So she picks up the novel and starts reading aloud to my brother and me. After A Heartbreaking Work, I assumed Eggers would narrate with his witty cynic's voice. I expected to giggle 'til I cried, the way my father had crowed over those early pages.

Alas, no. The first chapter, the fragment that Dad loves, is the story of a refugee who was robbed and severely beaten by two ignorant African Americans. Maybe other readers see humor like my father does, but to me, hearing the story was just painful. Here is my kinsman, this poor Sudanese immigrant, smacked about by strangers and robbed of basic furnishings donated by his church. Here are my other kinsmen, the African Americans, beating the snot out of a poor man for personal gain. I feel ill on both counts, as if I am the abused and the abuser. And my father, peace be upon him, is still trying to laugh off the pain.

By the time my brother and I figure out that there is no comic reprieve on the horizon, Mom has fully hurled herself into the recital. So we did what we always do. We tuned out. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep on the couch. He lowered his head and pretended to play with some electronic gizmo. If we could have let our actual feelings touch our faces, we both would have been locked in a grimace. But some code of ethics -- I am not sure where it comes from or how we know, but we do -- some unspoken understanding keeps us both stoic. We sit through the pages, until Chapter 1 is over. Mom closes the book. Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas to my father's staggering pain.
To my grandfather's pain.
To my grandmother's pain.
To my uncles' pain.
To my cousins' pain.
To Valentino Achak Deng's pain.
Merry Christmas to the country I will never know.
To the Lost Boys and the nameless ones before them.
Merry Christmas to sixty years of suffering.

I don't know. I might try to read another book by David Eggers. He's a perfectly good writer. It's just that right now, I'm not sure I have the heart.

A trip without leaving

Proud as I was to purchase my little 2-bedroom condo in East Falls, I have found a new home. It is here, on the fifth floor of the Biddle Law Library. It's amazing what you can find on these shelves! International journals in French and English (I have never had so much fun reading in French), comparative policy studies, country-specific journals ... I had to stop myself from squealing when I ran across the Journal of African Law. This could be so helpful for my presentation on land law this May with the Sudan Studies Association!

So I started scouring our database for articles to copy, and almost burst out laughing. One in every five articles written post 1996 is by someone I know. It's a mind trip -- like the time I walked into Barnes & Noble looking for history books on Sudan, and found exactly two titles: one written by John Prendergast (whom I have had the fortune to meet, but do not know well) and one written by Jok Madut Jok (the handsome Dinka I should have married when I had the chance).

Law school makes me feel like an idiot most days, but every once in a while I have to recognize the fact that I might actually know something about the world. And that rare feeling is positively delightful.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Where altruism lies

I wonder what other people see when they look at international crisis and relief videos like the ones I just posted. Video is effective in disseminating information, and so I include what I believe are better documentaries. But the medium can also foster a certain misconception that makes me uncomfortable; a type of hubris I would very much like to address.

Seeing People
Back in the 1980s, there was a prolific ad campaign requesting aid for for relief efforts in Ethiopia. The country was enduring a severe famine, and these ads portrayed dark toddlers with enormous staring eyes, ribs standing out like trellises above their swollen bellies.

Even as a kid, those ads drove me crazy. Yes, I wanted to share my 50 cent-per-week allowance. But there was something both alienating and dehumanizing about these images. On reflection, I was probably angry that the clips relied on deliberate emotional manipulation to part me from something of value. But more than that, I don't like the way these ads make relief recipients seem less like people and more like ... I don't know. Cows. Mute. Helpless. Needy. Personally ineffective.

These are not the Africans I know, and I have met a range. Scopas Poggo, Jok Madut Jok, Ali B. Dinar, Beniah Yongo-Bure, Lako Tongun, Stanley Einstein Matthews ... and those are just the professors! I'm not counting priests, social workers, entrepreneurs, doctors, or environmentalists. I haven't spoken about those who returned home, the relief workers. I'm not talking about the revolutionaries or the intellectuals who have been imprisoned for trying to make their country a safer place. And I'm not talking about the ordinary people, either; the mothers who work three jobs to send their children to school, the fathers struggling to keep their families housed in a discriminatory environment, the students who are working to put themselves through university ...

When I think about people from east Africa, I do not think about feeble, weak individuals that the world should blindly pity. Many of these people are decently educated by Western standards. Others have no formal training but are sensitive to the environment and to family life in ways that we here in the United States are just starting to learn. These are respectable, emotionally complex, multifaceted individuals who are unfortunately besieged by political conflict; conflict fomented by poorly planned state boundaries and ethnic tension. I am confident that many war victims will make something of their lives regardless of their dire circumstances, with or without foreign assistance.

Perhaps, as the daughter of a successful refugee, I am overly optimistic. But I remember being struck by the amount of laughter at my first Sudanese Studies Association conference last year. Here were northerners and southerners, Muslims and Christians, men and women, emigrants and Sudanese, all sitting together discussing conflict resolution. They might have disagreed with one another about various topics -- sometimes vehemently so -- but they were still able to go dancing together after the talks were over. As one gentleman from Khartoum explained, these troubles are like a block of ice. They will melt away. So we tell ourselves in order to survive.

So to me, any "oh, let me save these poor souls" attitude seems condescending and flatly offensive. A million times better, in my opinion, to think "let me help these people manage their circumstances."

You DO Have an Effect
It is undeniable that many east Africans face enormous social and political obstacles to living in stable environments. But here in the United States, as in many different countries, we can help alleviate those problems without sending troops, or even large sums of money. We can support acknowledgment of political crises on an international level, and that acknowledgement will enable future redress of grievances. We can trade and form alliances with governments who treat their people in accordance with basic international standards of decency, and enforce sanctions on governments that do not. We can open student exchange programs and internships. We can write comparative policy reports and advise capacity building. We can offer microloans, we can send doctors, we can send engineers. We can distribute STD information packets with birth control. We can teach neighbors to host community forums for conflict resolution. Maybe we can even expedite immigration for refugees from countries going through recognized conflict.

On an individual level, we can support intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations like the UNICEF and Human Rights Watch that are already engaging in such activities. We can write to our politicians whenever foreign aid is reduced, or when the United States hasn't acknowledged conflict abroad. We can volunteer for larger organizations, or we can donate directly to institutions abroad. There are second-graders who hold book drives for libraries in other countries. If you've been following all my posts, you saw the video of the boy who lost his water can -- why can't we send water cans? Blankets? Inflatable beds? Tents? Underwear? Shoes?

Okay, I'm emotional. Let me slow down.

The Bigger Picture
My point is, this is not some desperate affair that no one can solve. The mechanisms I mentioned above are helpful because they support stabilization and autonomy; they do not create economic reliance. True, Joseph Kony is not going to walk out of the jungle and lay down his arms because Joe Smith in the United States donated $5 to Amnesty International. But. Giving one bucket to a twelve-year-old boy might save a family of four from dying of thirst. And who knows what that family of four will turn out to be?

Making the point personal again, somebody saved my dad, and now he's a doctor in south-central Los Angeles, fighting his own battle against disease in one of the most impoverished areas of the West Coast. And because he was spared from hunger and violence, my brother was born and is working as an electrical engineer in Santa Monica. And me, I'm studying law in Philadelphia and putting together a human rights clinic for a university in Uganda. Look at the impact, and that was just one little act, just one person saved.

But -- and this is the last bar of soap in the box, I promise -- the reasons for anyone to be interested in foreign affairs is much, much broader than just one personal experience. Even under-developed nations like Sudan have valuable resources. Oil, for example. And in our current energy crisis, how valuable would those resources become if they were effectively managed and marketed across the hemisphere? Not to mention, small nations can be the source of disease such as Ebola, diseases which threaten to become a pandemic if they are not effectively quarantined and treated. And here's another angle: Think about the influence Afghanistan has had on our global political situation over the past ten years. And these are relatively powerless countries. Broaden your thinking to China and macrolending. Think about Russia's oil pipelines and how its control influences the United Nations Security Council and our allies in Europe. Recognize that the Berne Convention has affected intellectual property rights in the United States.

We cannot ignore other countries; not for humanitarian reasons, and not for business reasons. This is the wisdom of small tribes, an entry that I will write another day: For the sake of survival, you cannot ignore your brother. The person you take care of today will save your life tomorrow. The person you angered yesterday will let you die, given the choice.

Those kids whose lips were cut off by soldiers from the Lord's Resistance Army -- we can't afford to discount them. They might seem a world away, but their lives and ours are interconnected. We are all interconnected. And we benefit mutually from helping one another survive.

A boy looks for water


Video Description
Walking through the camps, the story of this young boy made a personal impact.

Joseph Kony

From Journeyman Pictures

Video Description
He's Africa's most wanted man. The leader of the feared Lord's Resistance Army. In his first interview for over twenty years, Joseph Kony explains why he's fighting.

"I am a freedom fighter not a terrorist", proclaims Joseph Kony. "We are fighting for total democracy." It's a surprising statement from a man widely believed to be a mad fantasist fighting for God. It's taken nearly a year of negotiations for Kony to agree to this interview. In his jungle hideout in the DRC, he seems relaxed and at ease. He weighs up each question with consideration and is surprisingly articulate. "The LRA has never been involved in any abductions, rapes or mutilations. That's just Museveni's propaganda." Perhaps mindful of his reputation, Kony denies suggestions God told him to fight. He does, however, admit to being guided by "very many spirits." And Vincent Otti, his number two states: "We are fighting to defend the 10 Commandments." It's believed Kony is about to begin peace talks with the Ugandan government. He's been following the case of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor with interest. But Kony himself has no fear of an international tribunal. As the VP of South Sudan states: "If we can bring about a peaceful settlement, the legal process can be done later."



Video Description
Working through the many issues in Gulu, Uganda, caused by 20 years of war and the ongoing ravages of extreme poverty and global indifference. is a global, all-volunteer, member-governed, online social network (in combination with real-world locations) that is made up of social entrepreneurs, activists, artists, social purpose enterprises, grassroots nonprofit, non-governmental, and community-based organizations, and is collaborating and taking action locally, nationally & globally, in order to make the world a better place.

The problem with passports, end of a trilogy

Have you ever seen "Along Came Polly"? Horrible movie, but there's a certain truth to the lead female character. She likes to dance, she likes spicy food, she's willing to give up extraneous comforts to live a simple, vibrant life. But the woman is a complete mess. She can't keep track of anything; don't EVER ask her to manage a practical task like finding her keys.

That's a lot like me. Tonight was the quintessential example. I was ready to go to bed around 11 p.m. It's spring break, and I'm still recovering from too many sleepless nights with my first appellate brief. Sleep is the most delicious thing in the world, right now.

Only problem is, I couldn't find the remote control for my overhead lights. The switch on my wall only controls a small table lamp. There's only one way to control the Hampton Bay lighted ceiling fan in my bedroom, and that is with the remote. Usually I keep it in bed with me so I can finish typing or studying, then just hit the switch and pass out. So today when the remote wasn't in my bed, I was mildly annoyed. What could I possibly have done with it?

I had just changed the sheets on my bed that afternoon, so I thought maybe the remote had fallen under the mattress. Nope. I stripped the bed, too, to see if I'd covered it over. No way. Checked under my desk, folded all the clean laundry on my computer chair, sorted all the dirty laundry on the floor (writing a paper means my life is a mess for a while), still no remote. By this point, I feel like I'm crawling beneath a desert sun. The light won't go off, and all I want is sleep!

So I sort a bunch of stray paperwork, take out the trash, clear the dishes in the bedroom ... it's a stretch to think the remote might be under my dinner plate, but you never know. I even move the bookshelf and my dresser drawers. No luck. I check Ozzie's dog bed. Lord knows my beagle has done odd things before. There was that one day I found my glasses under his pillow. He had chewed off the plastic earpieces and "buried" it for future playtime. But on this particular occasion, the munchkinhead was totally innocent. No light switch in his bed.

By 1:30 a.m. I have become completely desperate and loopy. I start going through old boxes of paperwork, including boxes I haven't opened since I lived in Center City more than two years ago. And naturally the remote control wasn't there -- it was sitting on my desk in plain sight, but you know what?

I found my passport.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In at the Ugandan Coalition

Dear Maisha,

The UCICC team has considered your application for internship starting June 1 2008, for 10 weeks. I am glad to inform you that it has been accepted. Terms of reference and all the necessary detail will be sent to you by the end of May. Looking forward to receiving you at UCICC.



Rose Nakayi
Project Coordinator
Uganda Coalition for the International Criminal Court (UCICC)
C/o: Human Rights Network-Uganda

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The problem with passports, part deux

Yesterday I was holed up on the sofa, staring at my blank appellate brief. For some reason I have an enormous amount of anxiety about this particular assignment. It should be easy -- even pleasant. Heck, it's about dog toys. But I am mind-numbingly tired right now, and I just can't seem to focus.

So I'm sitting on this couch in pajamas, pushing my beagle off me, trying to type a word or two between mental blocks, when roommate #2, Darien, walks into the living room.

"You have a package, and it looks kind of important," Darien says, and he hands me a thin priority envelope like a waiter serving a fine dish.

We both guess what it is. Darien thinks that he has just given me my new passport. As a dual citizen from Japan, big D knows how important it is to get out of the country now and again. As he sees it, he's handing me my freedom.

Unfortunately, Darien is only partially right. After the call last week, I know that the government has not magically changed its mind about issuing me a passport book. I smile my cranky little smile, and rip open the envelop.

Yep. There it is. The passport application that I hadn't even canceled yet.

Here we go, again ...

Monday, March 3, 2008

The problem with passports

Let's just say, it's a good thing I started early.

I don't travel much. The last time I was out of the country was February of 2002. It's strange, I'll admit, for someone who is interested in international work. I haven't been to Asia or Africa or even South America; I have to catch up with my peers.

Anyway, I don't want logistical trouble getting to Kampala this summer, so I have been trying to expedite my passport renewal. From the start, I figured I'd spend a day in a federal building somewhere, trying to get my passport updated. The only problem is, you can't make an appointment to get your passport renewed unless you a) only have 14 days before your trip, b) have somehow lost your old passport, or c) only have 14 days before you need to apply for a visa.

I didn't clearly fit into any of those categories. I'm not leaving the country until June; I thought I had my most recent passport; and I don't have a clear 14-day visa deadline. I just want to apply soon because I have no idea how long it will take the government of Uganda to respond. So I (foolish rookie!) called passport services to arrange a personal appointment but was shunted off the phone by a cranky government employee. The conversation went something like this:

ME: Hi, I'd like to make an appoin...

PASSPORT LADY: Are you leaving in fourteen days?

ME: No, b...

PASSPORT LADY: Then don't call!

ME: Wait! I need a valid passport to apply for a visa, and I don't know how long the visa processing time will take, s...

PASSPORT LADY: Well, you have to send an application in by mail with form DS-11.

ME: Actually, I already have a pas...

PASSPORT LADY: Well then why are you trying to make an appointment?

ME:, I'm just trying to get my passport renewed before my life gets busy in a few weeks, so I have time to apply for a visa.

PASSPORT LADY: Well then you have to mail in a DS-82, which you can find on our web site.

ME: Yes, but I would like to do this quickly. Is it even possible to make an appointment?

PASSPORT LADY: You might be able to make an appointment; are you applying for a passport for the first time?

ME: Ma'am, please listen to me. I would like to renew my passport in time to apply for a visa.

PASSPORT LADY: Where are you going? You can just get a visa at the airport.

ME: I would rather not fly across the world without assurance that I will actually be granted a visa, thank you.

PASSPORT LADY: Where are you going?

ME: (sigh) Entebbe airport in Uganda.

PASSPORT LADY: You can apply for a visa at that airport.

ME: Yes, I am aware that I can apply for a visa at Entebbe airport. However, I have assisted friends in obtaining visas before, and I know that, on occasion, the process gets complicated and takes a while. I would just ...

PASSPORT LADY: Mail in a DS-82.

ME: (giving up) Okay, but can you answer some questions for me about expediting mail renewal?

PASSPORT LADY: When are you leaving?

ME: I just want a basic answer.

PASSPORT LADY: When are you leaving?

ME: June.

PASSPORT LADY: You don't have to expedite your passport.

ME: Look, I am a very busy person and I just want to make sure I start this process earl...

PASSPORT LADY: You don't have to expedite your passport.

ME: ... (hanging up the phone)

Thank you, government employee. I couldn't even find out whether to write separate checks for passport renewal and expedited service, or whether to put it on the same check. But I wasn't going to fight with the woman any longer. I wrote my check, made my best guess, and mailed the darn DS-82 to National Passport Services.

Last week, I got a phone call. The passport center can't process my passport renewal. Supposedly, I renewed my passport in 2001 (I don't remember doing this, but it makes sense, since that was the last time I traveled abroad), and until I can find that passport and mail it in, the government won't issue me a new book.

Now, I have no idea where that passport is. I don't even remember applying for the renewal. So I have to cancel my expedited renewal service (there goes $75) and apply again (for $135) in person (read, WITH AN APPOINTMENT) at a federal building or a post office.

In other words, if I'd gotten that appointment the first time around, this wouldn't be happening.

In other words, I've spent almost two weeks running around in circles for nothing.

In other words, I'm really glad I tried to renew my passport early.

And this isn't even the government of Uganda that I'm dealing with, yet.

Celebrity crush

I've been working on syllabi for the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies in Gulu. The two classes I am designing are, respectively, press freedom and political speech, and refugees and internally displaced persons. It's been a lot of fun working on these projects, in part because I can include cross-disciplinary material from whatever source I like. So I've been throwing together essays and poetry, sociology reports and surveys, legal cases and legislation.

One of the project perks is writing to professors for help. Just this morning I got in contact with Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, distinguished scholar and professor of law at Oxford University. Professor Goodwin-Gill literally wrote the book on international refugee law, so I am very excited to have his input on my project. Might as well say I ran into Brad Pitt -- that's how giddy I am about corresponding with this man. He was extremely helpful, too; gave me a syllabus to use as a reference for my refugee class and a whole list of links to different source material.

I've also been in touch with professors from Harvard, USC, Tufts ... it's a lot of fun. I hope I get to study with these people some day. Human rights and public international law at the University of Pennsylvania is still somewhat limited, and while I love Professor Burke-White, I do wish more faculty taught courses in the field. Academics have a wide range of perspectives, and I worry how narrow my education might be, coming largely from one man.

In part, that's why I'm so adamant about doing additional research. Every article I read, every chapter of a book is the voice of another intellectual. And while my extracurricular independent studies cannot go into the same depth as our regular coursework, at least I am building some foundation in topics that I hope to work with in the future. At minimum, I know what sources to check for research, and what fact patterns to watch for in practice. Meeting folks like Sarah Paoletti and Adam Kolker, and writing to people like Eric Werker and John Prendergast -- that is the kind of networking I enjoy. I'm so lucky to have this opportunity!

Okay, I have to get back to writing my appellate brief, but I wanted to leave you with this editorial from the New York Times:

Africa's Next Slaughter

Update on my application with the Ugandan Coalition for the International Criminal Court

Dear Alison,

Greetings from UCICC. Thank you for your e-mail and for finding us an intern.

I am going to support the application before the team at UCICC and will inform you of the decision taken by in the coming week.

Kind regards to all your colleagues

On 27/02/2008, Alison I. Stein wrote:

Dear Onyango John Francis,

I hope this email finds you well. It was wonderful meeting you in Kampala in January. The meeting was quite helpful for our research.

You had expressed interest to us in having an American law student come to Kamapla to work with you for the summer. We have been thinking about the right candidate since we returned, and I am very pleased to introduce you to Maisha Elonai. Maisha has done research and worked on the issues in Northern Uganda and on issues relating to the ICC. Her family is from Southern Sudan and so the region means a lot to her. She would be a fabulous asset for the UCICC, and has great interest in working with you this summer. Further, she has funding that would allow her to do so.

I have attached her resume and cover letter. Please be in touch with her directly regarding planning and logistics. And please feel free to contact me with any questions.

All the best,

Alison Stein

Alison Stein
University of Pennsylvania Law School
Class of 2009